WILL NEILSON, D-Arrowsic, who is running for House District 53, speaks during a candidates’ forum Wednesday night hosted by Enterprise Grange No. 48 in Richmond.

WILL NEILSON, D-Arrowsic, who is running for House District 53, speaks during a candidates’ forum Wednesday night hosted by Enterprise Grange No. 48 in Richmond.

RICHMOND

Residents formed a line winding around the room waiting to ask local state legislative candidates about their positions on various issues during a two-hour event hosted by Enterprise Grange No. 48 on Wednesday evening.

Through the course of the night, the five candidates in attendance spoke mostly about November’s referendums, as well as education, the economy, health care, renewable energy and the need for more bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature.

Medicaid expansion

Senate District 23 candidate Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, said she would have supported Republican Sen. Thomas Saviello’s Medicaid expansion bill. That bill would have helped 70,000 Maine people, including about 4,000 veterans, get access to health care.

“There are still too many of our citizens who do not have affordable health care and are struggling to keep themselves healthy, keep their jobs and keep their family together,” Vitelli said.

Vitelli’s opponent, Guy Lebida, R-Bowdoin, said he opposes Medicaid expansion.

House District 53 candidate Will Neilson, D-Arrowsic, said he strongly supports Medicaid expansion, which would bring upward of $300 million in federal funds a year into the Maine economy. He argued it would strengthen the health of the workforce and the whole health care sector in the state.

Incumbent House District 55 candidate Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham, said he couldn’t comment on expansion without seeing a bill.

The Democratic candidates all said they’d vote in favor of Question 2, a citizen initiative that would add a 3 percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to support student learning in kindergarten through grade 12 public education.

Hobart’s challenger, Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said that the “idea of the state funding education” would level the playing field, creating more equitably opportunities for students.

Lebida called Question 2 a “pie in the sky notion that by bleeding more tax money of people, we’ll cure all the education ills in Maine.”

He said the money generated from this new tax would go into the state’s general fund and then get routed to education. Similar plans have gone awry in a hurry, he said, and argued it would drive the wealthy out of Maine.

Question 5

If approved, Question 5 would shift Maine’s voting system from one based on plurality to ranked choice, sometimes called instant-run off.

“You wouldn’t believe how much I don’t care about rank choice voting,” Hobart said, adding he doesn’t think it will accomplish anything.

Lebida called it “rigged choice” voting that would require a change to the Maine Constitution.

Berry said all candidates expressed the need for more civility, “and I think at its core that’s what the rank choice initiative is trying to do. To, honestly, dis-empower the major parties a little bit and encourage more third party candidates … to step up and run and maybe have a chance.”

Other issues

Berry said the tax code needs to be simplified when asked about areas government interference can be reduced.

Property, sales and income taxes all need to be looked at, Berry said, “and make sure that the person who’s making minimum wage is no longer paying twice as much of her overall tax burden as the person who’s down the road in a really nice house making 1 million bucks a year.”

Vitelli wants to look at scaling regulations pertaining to small businesses to the size of the enterprise involved.

“We need to streamline government,” said Lebida. “We need to make it more efficient, so that means shrinking it. We need to have less taxes, less regulations. We need more high paying jobs in Maine and the way we get them is by lowering our energy costs,” and generating more hydroelectric power.

House District 53 incumbent Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, couldn’t attend Wednesday’s forum. In a statement, Pierce said he “plans to push hard to provide more services for our elderly population, including increased funding for our chronically underfunded nursing homes.” He said he will also work to provide services to the mentally and developmentally disabled, and wants to address the shortage of skilled labor in Maine.

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